Damn the statistics and records. Come Sunday afternoon the New Orleans Saints are playing for one thing: pride.
The Saints under Payton with Brees at the helm have a 62-34 overall regular season record. They have also earned a Super Bowl ring and a 4-3 record in the playoffs. They have been in the playoffs four out of the six seasons Payton has roamed the sidelines.
Jim Mora, Sr. is the only other coach who has held a Saints clipboard and taken them to the playoffs four times. While Mora will forever be remembered in Saints lore as the coach who broke the playoff seal for the Saints, the outcomes were easily forgettable.
Sean Payton on the other hand has been anything but forgettable. The Saints campaign this season has been a stark reminder of how valuable Payton is to the team and the city of New Orleans. The team and Brees have managed to stay above water until the last two weeks.
In Week 12, the 49ers defense mauled the offensive line of the Saints and took two interceptions back to the house. That was the difference, like it or not. In Week 13, on a short week, the Saints traveled to Atlanta, got egged and lost. The house of cards seemingly collapsed on the Saints and any hopes of the playoffs all but vanished.
Some fans have suggested the losses were Brees' fault and that he may even be declining. Hold the phone. Drew Brees is declining?
While no one else can throw an interception, there are plenty of ways to lose a game. Take a look at the Detroit Lions this year. They are a talented team who finds news ways to blow leads and lose in the final minutes of a game. Drew Brees may be a lot of things, but he is not the sole cause for the Saints' losses or their playoff position, rather lack thereof.
Roger Goodell needed to do his best to show to all the legal eagles who want to sue the NFL for debilitating injuries and head trauma that he means business. Enter stage left the 2011 New Orleans Saints and Gregg Williams. Like Wiley E. Coyote, the Saints stood right on the "x" and took it on the chin.
Goodell had his watershed moment to show the owners and the rest of the league he ruled with an iron fist. He removed Payton, Vitt and Loomis from the organization. The players implicated in the pay for performance scandal await their judgement. Now it is looking like what Goodell did was just what an arrogant, overreaching, dictatorial leader would do and made some jumps in reasoning without solid facts.
Goodell or not, the Saints are now poised to face their third NFC divisional leader in a row. No one gives the Saints a chance. Payton isn't going to be on the field, Brees looks like Aaron Brooks and the Saints are playing in cold weather. Forget it right?
Wrong. The rest of the NFL and Vegas still haven't learned anything about the Saints from previous seasons. This is a team that came back from the dead. When all was said and done, and the waters slowly receded back into the Gulf, the Saints left standing were, for lack of a better expression, "not your daddy's Saints." They proved it and not only showed up in 2006, but made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game against the Bears.
The New Orleans Saints since then have shown signs that when their back is against the wall they are at their best. Damn the statistics and records. Come Sunday afternoon the New Orleans Saints are playing for one thing: pride.
You better believe that Drew Brees is playing for personal pride and a +1 in the win column. He's worked too hard and put too much into playing every game just to let this season go without a fight. The math involved for the Saints to make the playoffs is mind blowing and the only people who give the Saints a chance have a Fleur-de-lis tattooed on their heart. New York, New Orleans or wherever the Saints play they now know more than ever that when Brees straps up his helmet and makes his way to the field for the first time, he will know that no one is expecting them to make it to the playoffs, let alone win the game.
If life has taught me anything so far, one of it's most important lessons is that a man who has nothing to lose is the most dangerous man in the world. I assure you the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees are just as potently dangerous as they were in their four-game wining streak.
Actually, they are more dangerous now because the Giants won't see it coming.